Ethernet cables. Chances are you’ve handled them at some point in your life. They seem pretty simple at first glance. A cable is a cable right? Not so much. Ethernet cables all have different capabilities based on how they were constructed. Construction differences can significantly impact the network speed each one can support. There are two main categories of ethernet cable out on the market right now. CAT5, or category 5, is an older ethernet cable that has been a mainstay in the IT industry for years. CAT6 is its newer younger brother. This cable was released in 2002 and has slowly been taking over the market. Can’t decide between needing a CAT5 installer or a CAT6 installer? Read on to pick which cable is right for you and your company.
The Construction of CAT5CAT5 is currently the industry standard for network and telephone wiring. CAT5 contains four pairs of 24-gauge copper wiring and ends in a standard RJ-45 jack. This type of copper wire cabling is known as twisted pair cabling and is only recommended for a maximum distance of 100 meters or 328 feet. While it does contain four lines of copper wire, two of these copper wires lie dormant. The Electronic Industries Association and Telecommunications Industry Association has actually developed CAT5e, which supports even faster internet by using all four wires. CAT5 cables come in two different varieties: solid and stranded. Solid supports longer distances of ethernet usage and is often used in professional buildings such as an office park. Stranded CAT5 cables are more flexible and better for shorter distances. Because of this, stranded cable is best suited as a “patch cable” meant for connecting two electronic devices together.
CAT5 CapabilitiesCAT5 is not rated to support Gigabit ethernet but can be made to do so. The key to getting Gigabit ethernet through CAT5 cabling is to only cover shorter distances. CAT5 cables often have an issue with signal interference or “crosstalk.” The copper wiring inside the cable is not constructed as tightly as in CAT6, creating a higher risk for signal interference, especially over longer distances. CAT5 supports data speeds of 100 Mbps. This was a huge improvement over its predecessor, CAT3 which could only carry speeds of 10 Mbps. CAT5 isn’t only used as cabling in computer networks. The cable can also support various other signals such as basic voice services, ATM, and Token Ring.
The Construction of CAT6CAT6 cabling is slowly taking over as the new industry standard in network cabling. Category 6 cabling is another variation of twisted pair cabling. Similar to CAT5, it uses four pairs of copper wire ending in an RJ-45 jack. However, unlike CAT5, CAT6 uses all four pairs of copper wire to produce faster internet speeds. CAT6 decreases crosstalk throughout the cable by using a tighter twist in the copper wire. Besides that, CAT6 is considerably thicker than CAT5. This can be attributed to the tighter twist in the wire, as well as the extra plastic shielding around the cable itself. CAT6 requires this plastic shielding in order to reduce the effect of electromagnetic interference in highly-saturated environments. This shield is typically created by using a drain wire to run the length of the cable and ground at either end.
CAT6 CapabilitiesCAT6 supports 10 Gigabit ethernet, but only over a distance of 164 feet. CAT6A cables are CAT6’s successor and do support 10 Gigabit ethernet over the full distance of 328 feet. After 164 feet, CAT6’s speed is limited to the same as CAT5e at 1 Gigabit. The tighter twist throughout the CAT6 wires also allows for two-way communication, a capability that neither CAT5 nor CAT5e have. At the end of the day, the main differences in the capabilities of CAT6 and CAT5 are:
- Two-way communication